Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA fantasy

Nyada pushed aside a stack of empty apple crates at the rear of the garden shed and eased open the hidden panel. A trio of brown field mice scurried across her sandals into the shadows. She bit back a cry, waited for her heart to stop hammering, and peered into the cellar below. A single lantern hung from the ceiling of the stone chamber, its wick turned low. When her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she crept down rough-hewn stairs toward a row of oak barrels.

Pear-shaped leather costrels rested atop each vat of mead. Nyada held one under the nearest spigot. Her nose wrinkled at the musty odor of fermented honey and water dripping into the pouch. She plugged the top, slid the cord over the dark tunic she wore during nighttime prowls, and slunk back to the stairs.

At the far end of the chamber, another door led to what Nyada supposed was a storeroom for the Order’s jewels. Why else would it be secured with a bronze bolt and carved with symbols of the sea? Though it was folly to linger, tonight she couldn’t resist—for all she knew, she might never have another chance. She drifted toward the thick barrier, hands itching to trace the mermaid chiseled just above the latch.

Her fingers danced across flowing hair and scales. Once, twice, three times. The mermaid moaned. Nyada fled back toward the steps. Gods, what had she done? Halfway up the staircase, she paused, sniffing. Seawater?


  1. I really liked this beginning. The sensory details really pull me in. The only thing that seemed off to me was why did she open the door on this particular night?

    I feel like we need a lot more character motivation. Why was she in the cellar stealing mead in the first place? What is so compelling about this door (that she's probably seen a hundred times before)that she abandons her other mission (whatever it was), to open the door?

  2. Your writing style is engaging and I thought you did a nice job of dropping in terms -- like the costrels -- without over-explaining.

    Since it seems clear this isn't her first 'nighttime prowl' through the hidden panel into the cellar below, I think you need to give a stronger impetus to her lingering and touching the door than 'she couldn't resist'. Why might this be her last chance?

    The closing paragraph is effective, with just the right amount of detail, and left me wanting to read on.

  3. Oh my. What has this girl done? I am totally intrigued.

    My only suggestion would be to offer more of a hook at the very beginning. Give us a reason to want to read about Nyada pushing aside a stack of empty apple crates. I think the solution lies in the fact that this might be her last chance (for whatever reason).

    Another thing to think about is the title. Without knowing who these people are, perhaps your book would be best served with a title that offers a little more information about your story.

    Nice work.

  4. I would suggest using the senses more when the mice scurry over the MC's sandals to make it sound more real. She must have felt the claws or something soft brushing her skin.
    I wonder why she bit back a cry. Is she afraid someone will hear her? If it is dark, how can she see the lantern and the things inside? Maybe suggest that the light from the moon outside pierces the darkness and she can see shapes.
    I like the mystery and the sense of danger and the historical/fantasy feel, but you need more details to describe the setting. The last word "seawater?" is jarring because you did not mention the sea before and its importance. Where is she? If she is on a mountain and smells seawater then I understand her surprise. Is she stealing something? Is there people sleeping around or guarding the place? Why is she getting the spigot? Is she a servant? A slave? A thief? When is this happening? I am sure you mention all of this in the rest of the chapter, but just hint of something that gives a sense of the setting, at least why she needs the spigot or where they are.
    Awesome beginning though. I hope you get picked :)

  5. That first line is a bit wordy. It's a lot to take in for a first line. Maybe if you trimmed it up: "Nyada slipped into the shed, pushed aside a stack of empty crates, and eased open the hidden panel." It's only four words shorter, but the pacing is a little faster and more succinct. Something along those lines will get the reader to the good stuff faster. There are a few places where you can cut descriptions: trio of brown field mice could simply be a trio of mice; you could cut "stone chamber" all together along with "rough hewn" and "pear-shaped." It's not that these aren't great descriptions, it's just A LOT of description in the first two paragraphs. All the reader needs to know is that she's sneaking out and she just triggered something.

    The rest of it is fantastic. The voice feels right for the period. There's a mood to the scene that pulls me in. I'm intrigued by her sneaking out and I'm dying to know what's up with the seawater and the mermaid. I'm hooked.

  6. I'm really intrigued. I think you have an interesting story and it makes me want to read more. I agree the voice feels good, and enjoy the descriptive nature.

    The only thing that was difficult to picture is the second paragraph to what she's doing. Did she grab something on the vat? Why the spigot? what exactly was she trying to do there?

  7. I'm very intrigued. I want to know why she's stealing booze and why the door seems to lead to the sea or something of that nature.

    You set this up quite well for future pages as it leaves the reader with questions but not a sense of overwhelming confusion.

    Nice job!

  8. I have to say, I'm not hooked. There seems to be a lot of unnecessary description here -- "empty apple crates at the rear of the garden shed", "brown field mice", "rough-hewn stairs", "oak barrels", "pear-shaped leather costrels". That's a lot of adjectives -- does it matter that the apple crates are empty, or the mice brown, or the stairs rough hewn, etc?

    To me it felt overwritten, and didn't draw me in to the world. Also, the MC's reaction to the mermaid groaning also felt anti-climatic. She isn't surprised or confused or anything at all - she just runs up the stairs.

    Trimming the adjective use and adding a few sentences about the mermaid would make this stronger, in my opinion!

  9. I found this so engaging. The rich detail pulled me in rather than overwhelming or bogging down the story. (Confession: I had to run to my dictionary for "costrels"- but I love learning new words!)

    A few small points- Does it need to be *three* mice? I'd think after the first mouse ran over her toe Nyada would pull back her foot out of the way before the other two had a chance to scurry by.

    I was curious why tonight, of all nights, she can't resist the urge to linger. Is it her last night fetching mead? If so, maybe this could be a bit clearer to avoid confusion?

    Finally- I'm not sure Nyada would pause to sniff at the sea water while she's running in terror. Maybe later she might realize that as she fled she smelled something that might have been the sea, but in the moment it seems to me she'd be too terrified to bother stopping in her tracks to sniff the air.

    Nicely done. A really engaging opening. I'd be interested to read more.

  10. Ooh, I like this! Evocative writing and intriguing set-up. I think the adjectives paint a vivid detailed picture. I'm really curious about her nighttime prowls, and the moaning mermaid, of course.

    I agree that you might mention why she's investigating the door this time when she hasn't in the past, even if she feels compelled but doesn't know why herself.

    I only have one other comment: "drifted" doesn't sound right unless you mention a reason, like she was mesmerized.

    That's it. I'm hooked!